Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Can we hope that all men be saved?

And he shall separate them one from another, as the shepherd separateth the sheep from the goats.

This topic has been beaten around far too many times for my own taste – however, since the reading for Mass today (Romans 8:26-30) contains what is probably the clearest doctrine on hope in the whole of Scripture, and since the phrase for in hope we were saved inspired our Holy Father’s encyclical letter on Christian Hope (Spe salvi), it seems appropriate to offer a few brief reflections on the nature of hope.
Last Saturday, I offered a word on the nature of the theological virtue of hope over at the Virtuous Planet blog, today I would like to consider the object of hope – For what do Christians hope? Can we properly hope that all men should be saved?

The object and cause of hope
“Hope is the theological virtue by which we desire the kingdom of heaven and eternal life as our happiness, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” (CCC 1817) The Catechism of the Catholic Church, in this simple definition, tells us both the object and the cause of hope.
The object of hope – that for which we hope – is nothing less that heaven, the beatific vision of God himself. Hope is not in the things of this life, but in the glory that awaits in life everlasting. Neither is hope in anything less that God – we do not hope, essentially, in angels or in saints, but in God alone (though, in God, we hope to enjoy that perfect communion of all the blessed).
The cause of our hope – that which makes us to have hope – is, of course, the grace of Christ Jesus and his promise. We hope not in our own strength, nor in the power of men, but in the goodness and mercy of God. The promise of God, which has been revealed to us in Scripture and Tradition, is the cause of our hope.
We hope only for our own salvation
Notice that the definition of hope pertains only to the desire which the individual man has of union with God. Hope, properly so-called, desires heaven for oneself. By hope, we desire eternal life for ourselves specifically.
It is true, as the Catechism points out, that “In hope the Church prays for all men to be saved.” (CCC 1821) Still, if we are precise, hope itself does not touch directly upon our desire of salvation for others. Rather, we have hope of our own salvation and this leads us to trust entirely in the mercy of God. If the good Jesus can save me, then he can surely save all people – for, without his grace, I would be worse than any sinner.
St. Thomas Aquinas speaks well to this point in Summa Theologica II-II, q.17, a.3. There, he tells us that, as diverse from love, hope principally regards the individual who hopes (whereas love unites us to another). Hope is directed to our own movement toward God, and therefore it is more properly by virtue of love that we desire salvation for others.
Moreover, if hope is to be certain (and it must be certain if it is true theological hope), then it cannot bear on things which are beyond the control of the individual who hopes. If the Blessed Mother had true theological hope for the salvation of all, then either that hope was in vain (if all are not, in the end, saved) or we can be absolutely certain that all people will indeed be saved (but this supposed certainty is nowhere found in the tradition).
The cause of hope: Revelation regarding heaven and hell
The cause of our hope is the promises of Jesus, but our Savior never promised that all would be saved. In fact, if we look honestly at his words, the good Lord speaks as though many will be damned. He says that many will say “Lord, Lord”, but will be rejected. There are many who take the path to perdition. There are many wicked who will be divided from the just, as a shepherd divides goats from the sheep.
While it is certainly true that Jesus tells us that, if we are faithful to him, we shall certainly be saved; there is nothing in the Word of God which promises that all people will be saved. Therefore, since there has been no such promise, neither can we hope that all will be saved.
Fr. Hans Urs von Balthasar, to the contrary, will attempt to settle this by making a distinction: He says that it is in the pre-Resurrection parables that Jesus speaks mostly of hell, but all this talk of hell is absent after the Resurrection. It is as though Balthasar expects us to believe that the message of Jesus changed somehow during the three days stay in the tomb.
Are we to believe that our Savior did not realize (before his death) that all would be saved? Who instructed the mind of Christ in this matter? How did he grow in his knowledge of salvation? Was it Adam or Moses who taught him, when he descended into the limbo of the Fathers? Or are we to believe that, when Jesus descended into the hell of the damned to suffer there (as the Balthasarians foolishly claim), the good Lord was shocked to find that the hell of the damned was empty?!
In any case, we cannot trust the speculations of the modern theologians, we must trust in the promise of Christ. And he never promised that all would be saved, he only said that we will be saved if we continue to follow him. Thus, hope is about our own salvation – and we can only hope (properly speaking) in salvation for ourselves.
The prayer that all may be saved
However, we most certainly must pray for the salvation of each and all – excepting those whom we know to be either in heaven (i.e. the saints) or in hell (i.e. Satan and his demons). We pray for the salvation of all because we are united to all through the virtue of charity.
By the theological virtue of charity, we are united first to God and then to all those who are united to God or who are potentially united to him. Hence, we are united to the saints and to all those in the state of grace, and we are even united to all those who are still living but are not in the state of grace (insofar as they are potentially members of Christ’s body). The only persons to whom love does not unite us are the damned in hell – thus, we do not have theological love for Satan or any of the damned; we have a natural love for them, insofar as we will their existence, but we do not have a supernatural love by which we would will their salvation.
It is this love, which wills the good of the other, which leads us to pray that all men be saved. Hope, in a secondary sense, makes us to be certain that others will be saved insofar as they are united to God and us in love (thus, this is a conditional hope which is not theological hope properly so-called).


Mark said...

Thank you Father for the excellent post and especially for pointing out the error in some modern theological thought.


Derek Caudill said...

I love the post, Father. Thank you for the clear distinctions and insights.

I have a question: Might we say that Satan and his demons are in hell already as well as roaming the earth at this moment? If hell is a subjective state, and if spirits can't be located in a physical sense as we understand it, then it would seem to me that the evil spirits could be in hell while they do what they do in the cosmos.

Nishant said...

Since Scripture says that God wills all men to be saved, we do no more than pray that His will in this matter be done, insofar as His creatures freely cooperate with His plan. In other words, to say that we hope that all men be saved, properly understood, and, I think, in the sense the Catechism means it, is no more than to say that we do not hope that anyone be damned, not even our worst enemy.

Joe Areopagite said...

Dear Fr. Ryan,

It's curious that, as one who upholds the "hermeneutic of continuity," you claim that "hope itself does not touch directly upon our desire of salvation for others" when our present Holy Father has written an encyclical in which just such an individualistic narrowing of hope is lamented.

You might consider rereading Spe Salvi, nos. 15-17, and think about why he asks the following question at the outset of no. 16: "How could the idea have developed that Jesus's message is narrowly individualistic and aimed only at each person singly?"


Deacon Tom said...

Could this apparent conflict with the title/catchphrase of von Balthasar and a stricter (theologically speaking) application of language not be simply explained by the possibility of Von Balthasar's phrase utilizing the word 'hope' in a more colloquial sense as opposed to a proper theological manner - ie couldn't the phrase simply mean "dare we desire and pray for all men to be saved?"

While I recognize the need or precise language in theology (or any science), I also see that you've conceded the point that, founded upon our hope for our own salvation and our charity towards all other humans, we should pray for the salvation of all; and one can hardly pray for something that one does not desire or recognize as a good. Isn't this just a fine distinction rather than any sort of true disagreement? In the colloquial sense that most people use 'hope', shouldn't we in fact hope that all humans accept the gift
Of salvation and enter God's Heavenly Kingdom?

Don said...

Who needs theologians?

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road broad that leads to destruction, and those who enter through it are many. How narrow the gate and constricted the road that leads to life. And those who find it are few.

Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you accursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” … “And these will go off to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

He said to them, “Go into the whole world and proclaim the gospel to every creature. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned.’

Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” He answered them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door, for many, I tell you, will attempt to enter but will not be strong enough.”

Jesus said to them, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life and I will raise him up on the last day.

Howard said...

Several years ago, before my conversion to the Catholic Church, I had a dream that affected me powerfully. I dreamed that I was in Heaven, and the feeling was indescribable. In my dream it was somehow communicated to me that I would certainly not have made it to Heaven, but for the fact that all the Popes throughout all history had been praying for me. When I awoke, I was immensely disappointed to find myself still alive -- and still Protestant. I knew that what the dream said was true, though: the Popes each pray for everyone, and that includes me, and it is reasonable to conclude that this must have an effect.

If I die in a state of grace and eventually enter Heaven -- as I hope I will -- I fully expect to have the message of that dream confirmed.

Howard said...

@Derek Caudill

From Marlowe's Dr. Faustus:

"FAUSTUS. Where are you damn'd?

MEPHIST. In hell.

FAUSTUS. How comes it, then, that thou art out of hell?

MEPHIST. Why, this is hell, nor am I out of it:
Think'st thou that I, who saw the face of God,
And tasted the eternal joys of heaven,
Am not tormented with ten thousand hells,
In being depriv'd of everlasting bliss?
O, Faustus, leave these frivolous demands,
Which strike a terror to my fainting soul!"

A Sinner said...

Uh, I don't think anyone in these cases is talking about the theological virtue of Hope; merely about the question of natural hope for the salvation of all men, in other words the question of the possibility in spite of difficulty or unlikelihood.

Anonymous said...

Hello Father,

I would underline the fact that God also wants all men to be saved. This is called the Universal Salvific Will of God.

Here is another quote from the Gospel to put it into context.

‘[God] desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave himself as a ransom for all’ (1 Tim 2:4-6).”

Vatican II also clearly teaches in GS 22,5 regarding salvation which is offered to all mankind:

”For, since Christ died for all men, and since the ultimate vocation of man is in fact one, and divine, we ought to believe that the Holy Spirit in a manner known only to God offers to EVERY MAN the possibility of being associated with this paschal mystery.”


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

As comments are moderated, it will sometimes take me a few hours (or even 5 hours) to get them posted.

I "hope" that you can forgive any inconvenience! :-)

Anonymous said...

Dear Father Erlenbush,

It's hunting season so let me use a homely analogy. I might hope that you get your deer, and I certainly do. But I can't kill your deer for you, you gotta do it yourself!

If I give you some of the meat, (come on out and have dinner!), that's a gift, but it's not YOUR deer. You got your own tag and YOU gotta fill it, I can hope you fill it, but you gotta fill it yourself. Somethin like that, Father? God bless you!

P.S.: HOWARD is the man!!! Thank you for sharing, sir! Every man on the planet should read your dream, you strengthened my faith today, brother.

Michelangelo said...

Sorry Father, I hit the wrong button and sent my previous email without the name attribution, please edit, or just add this below. God bless, Father.

Anonymous said...

Here is a question I have. St. Paul was given a great grace that converted him. What I wonder is how many people if they were given that same grace would repent and believe as Paul did? Some people say people have a free will and can still reject God even if they had this grace. Yes they can but would they. I have heard of people who have had near death experiences and have seen their whole lives pass before them. They see their sins and the ripple effect they have on people and society. Some people have been given that grace without a near death experience. Father Rick Wendel is one that I know of. Once they experience this they change and repent. Now God loves all people more than we can possibly imagine. He wants all of his children in heaven more than any of us want to be heaven. So is it possible that all people the moment before they die will have this experience of seeing their life pass before them and see the depths of their sin. Why wouldn't God do this? I think he will try every trick in the book to help souls see the truth clearly. Let's just say this is what happens to every person before they die. If it does perhaps all men after having seen evil like this will choose the good. Perhaps this is what St. Edith Stien meant when she said God can trick men to choose heaven without violating their free will. Don't know where she said that but someone told me she did. I hope this happens and I hope all men are saved. As for some of those bible quotes. Somewhere our Lord says it is impossible for men to be saved after speaking about how hard it is for the rich to be saved.The Apostles ask who can be saved than. Our Lord than goes on to say for men it is impossible but with God ALL things are possible. Paraphrasing here. If all things are possible is not all men being saved part of all things?

Dave Hahn

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Mark, Derek, and Michelangelo,
Thank you for the encouraging words. I am very happy to hear that this post clarified certain points for you! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

To not hope that anyone be damned is not logically equivalent to hoping that all be saved.
Certainly, we cannot "hope" that anyone at all be damned -- the very thought is scandalous! But this does not mean that we "hope" that all be saved.

To be clear: While we do not "hope" that any be damned, neither do we "hope" that all be saved -- rather, out of love, we will the salvation of all (i.e. we will their conversion).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Joe A.,
Are you suggesting that Pope Benedict is rejecting the definition of "hope" given in the CCC and in the Compendium to the CCC?

Most certainly, the quotation from Spe Salvi (which you mention) is not critiquing the Catholic idea of hope (which is so well expressed by Saint Thomas, the CCC, and the Compendium), but rather is critiquing the "evangelical" Protestant notion of hope.

In fact, I find it surprising that you invoke the "hermeneutic of continuity" specifically to reject the definition of hope that has been accepted for well over 1,000 years!

In any case ... if I have presented "hope" as "narrowly individualistic", then I have not expressed myself clearly ... and, for that, I am sorry. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@ Deacon Tom and A Sinner,
While many will try and defend Balthasar by saying that he is not speaking of theological hope, but only of a certain worldly/natural hope, I must say that this is really not the case ... in fact, the true "Balthasarians" insist that it is theological hope which the ex-Jesuit invokes.

In any case, theologians need to use theological language ... so, if Balthasar says "hope" -- and if he does not make it clear that he does not mean the thoelogical virtue but only means a certain worldly/natura; volition -- then we have to take him at his word (as his followers do) and conclude that he means the theological virtue. In which case, he is certainly wrong.

Words have meaning ... and we have to speak carefully in theology. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Thank you for citing the specific passages!

Marion (Mael Muire) said...

"Still, if we are precise, hope itself does not touch directly upon our desire of salvation for others."

Excellent article. Still, I'm not certain what to make of the above statement. The confidence in the efficacy of their continued prayers for their recalcitrant grown-up sons, on the part of some especially devoted mothers, is about as close to a force-of-nature as anything I have ever seen; the passing of years does not diminish it; nothing shakes it; nothing deters it.

How would you classify the virtues exercised by mothers such as Saint Monica toward her son Saint Augustine prior to his conversion?

Anonymous said...

Sir, you interpret Balthasar as saying that "it is in the pre-Resurrection parables that Jesus speaks mostly of hell, but all this talk of hell is absent after the Resurrection," and then you invite us into your evaluation by stating that "it is as though Balthasar expects us to believe that the message of Jesus changed somehow during the three days stay in the tomb."

I am wondering if you have studied Balthasar, or have read "Dare We Hope" in detail, and thus really believe that this is what he is saying, or are you just being lazy?

Please don't interpret that question perjoratively. There's all sorts of things I don't know enough about to offer a sustainable explanation or defense. Hopefully, however, that would prevent me from commenting.

David said...

Reading your comment, I had this thought which may or may not be helpful to anyone but me ...

Perhaps, because theological hope can only apply to an individual and theological charity unites us with all, merely "hoping" for someone's salvation other than yourself, does no good. We must practice the theological virtue of charity, which involves prayer certainly, but much, much more than simple warm fuzzy feelings directed to those we wish to spend eternity with. And, as we may suspect, Mothers add much to their supplications to Heaven, in raising and caring for their children. When necessary, I know many Mothers (and Fathers) who administer a "tough" love in order to guide their children along the narrow path.

What I might glean now from this article is that God expects much more from me than warm fuzzy feelings. Much, like Mother Teresa, He calls us to get in the game and exercise Charity "till it hurts", all the while Hoping for our own personal salvation. Jesus' words in today's readings from the Gopel of Luke are sobering indeed in that regard

Derek Caudill said...

@Dave Hahn -- "I think he will try every trick in the book to help souls see the truth clearly." -- Amen, brother. If I, who am evil, can do that with a son or friend, it would be near foolish for me to think God wouldn't, and with an efficacy times infinity.

@Howard -- Thanks for the relevant and artistic quote. As a literature and drama buff, I appreciate it. Peace!

Sam Schmitt said...

Whatever it was, it was not the theological virtue of hope.

Just as we cannot love or believe for anyone else, so we cannot hope for them either in the sense of a theological virtue.

Don said...

OK, if anyone cares, here is the straight dope (no comments please) on hell according to Me. Hell does not exist as a place of eternal punishment. That idea of hell was imparted to fallen humanity by Jesus, saints, mystics, whoever so as to scare them (us) in terms they (we) could understand. To forsake an eternal exchange of love in union with transcendent Truth, Beauty, and Goodness for a “Heaven” of worldly goods, pleasure and love of self can only be described in terms that are ghastly. Hell is not so much physical suffering as the deprivation of “an eternal exchange of love in union with …” .

At death, everyone will choose heaven --- their own “Heaven”. If it were possible (NOT, thank Goodness) to force friend, foe or family to choose “Heaven”, they would be condemned to a life of misery all the days of their eternal life. They could not stand to live in the presence of God in eternity no more then they could stand it on earth. That “Heaven” would be “Hell” for them. They would rather be playing golf.

Bill said...

Dear Father,

I have read some of of Fr. Balthasar's
works including "Dare We Hope". I am not qualified to speak to some of the theological issues you raise. Nevertheless, I think you did a disservice to this great theologian by referring to him as an "ex-Jesuit". A reader could assume, incorrectly, that he left the priesthood which he did not. He could not have been as incompetent a theologian as you imply because JPII asked him to accept the title of Cardinal-priest. Further, although he wrote his book "Dare We Hope" he warned against asserting universal salvation.

CM7 said...

Father, quick question. In the Hail, Holy Queen prayer, what exactly are we saying when we say, "...Mother of Mercy, our life, our sweetness and our hope, to thee do we cry..."? Who are we calling "our hope" and what "hope" are we speaking of?

Pax Christi.

DN said...

Great post Father. I have often wondered about this myself.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Mr. Wilson,
I guess I'm not sure what you are asking ... If you are asking, "Do you think that Balthasar really believes that Jesus was 'shocked' to find hell empty?", the answer is, "No" -- that was just a rhetorical flourish on my part.

If you are asking, "Do you think that Balthasar really believes that Christ's human knowledge was imperfect before the Resurrection?", the answer is "Yes" -- Balthasar will go so far as to say that Christ "left his divinity" with the Father, and that Christ was a "human person" ... indeed, sadly, it is not at all uncommon for theologians these days to doubt the perfection of Christ's human knowledge.

I hope that my claim is clearer now. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Excellent question!

The virtue which St. Monica exercised toward St. Augustine was principally love, supernatural charity.
She loved her son, and so will the good for him (i.e. she willed his salvation).

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

When I say that Balthasar is an ex-Jesuit, I mean just that ... not that he left the priesthood, nor that he left the Church; but simply that, after having made final vows, he abandoned both religious life and his Order.

Further, while it is true that JP II had intended to make Balthasar a cardinal, I wonder if you (and others) would be equally strong in defending the theological opinions of others whom JP II made cardinals: Roger Mahony, for example.

A theologian's work needs to stand on its own ... it is a really cheap shot to try and invoke some sort of supposed "authority".

In any case, I never accused Balthasar of asserting universal salvation ... I only said that (according to Catholic doctrine) hope is 100% certain -- you conclude what you want from his claim that we may "hope" for the salvation of all.

Peace. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Great question!
I am reminded also that we speak of the Cross of Christ as our hope: Ave Crux, Spes Unica!

Our Lady is our "hope" insofar as she participates in Christ's redemptive plan. Indeed, she participates in this in a most unique way -- as a true mediatrix, and indeed co-redemptrix.
Thus, she is rightly called "our hope" (and also "our life").

Still, we should be clear that God alone is, without any qualification, our life and our hope. Then, by virtue of the hypostatic union, the humanity of Christ is our hope and life.
Then, the Cross.

Finally, we may speak also of our Lady as our hope -- but this is in a far more distant sense than the Cross even (or the Sacred Humanity of Jesus).

Peace and blessings! +

Anonymous said...

Bottom line.

If there is a hell, but no one is there, what do we need Fr. Ryan for?

For that matter, what do we need the Church for? Her Sacraments are good for...what? Apparently they're not needed, since all are saved.

Her rules? For whom? Catholics only? Why for? Better off leaving the Church and doing as you please elsewhere...or nowhere.

Why rules? Why do's and don't's? Sin? Who cares - mortal or venial - makes no difference. Martin Luther was right - sin and sin boldly. Believe in the Lord and you will be saved...regardless. Or don't believe in Him - makes no difference.

We'll all meet merrily in Heaven.


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I very much sympathize with your comments -- and I thank you for reminding me of my duty to save souls! :-)

However, Balthasar and others would probably respond by saying that - if all are saved, and if we hope for the salvation of all - salvation still comes through the Church and the sacraments.
In other words, they would want to claim that they are not denying the necessity of Christ and of merity, but only saying that the power of Christ is so great that we can hope that it saves all people.

Now, as you can tell from the article, I think that they are wrong ... and I agree with you ... but I just want to be clear on this point: Balthasar is not explicitly denying the reality that Christ alone is our Savior.

Peace to you always! +

Anonymous said...

Father, thank you, but regardless what Balthasar thinks or how he would respond, my comments still stand. While he may not be explicitly denying the reality that Christ alone is our Savior, he surely is implicitly.

To me, Balthasar's alleged rebuttal is just a circular argument. Not only that, St. Teresa of Avila and the Fatima children, just to name a few, must have been hallucinating when it came to salvation and the reality of souls in Hell.

Nonsense like this "all men are saved" theory couldn't come at a worse time in the history of mankind when the majority of mankind is at its worse morally - with no signs of improving any time soon.


P.S. Isn't this the same person who also thinks that if, perish the thought, there should actually be a soul in Hell, that it will not be there eternally but only until the Final Judgment?

Michelangelo said...

Hi Father,

Am I oversimplifying it to say that your basic distinction comes down to the fact that God offers each man his own theological virtue of hope?

Sorta like Dorothy's ruby slippers, we all got 'em, we just gotta use 'em! So I don't need to lend that guy my ruby slippers, he's already wearing his!

So while we must evangelize, and share the Faith, once we are made a Christian by repentance and Baptism, each must appropriate his own gift of hope. God bless, Father.

Unknown said...

Mary's words and revealed vision at Fatima should be the final and authoritative word on this.

"Neck-tie Jesuits" have nothing on the Immaculate Theotokos!

Our Lady of Fatima pray for us.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I agree!
(however, no, Balthasar does not go so far as to claim that souls in hell proper will be freed ... however, some theologians may argue that certain points in his reasoning could lead to that).

peace to you. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

I think you are pretty well on the right track.
It is specifically love which unites us to others ... and each properly hope only for himself (though, through love, he desires salvation for all).

Peace. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@Taylor Marshall,
Indeed, it is surprising how rarely Balthasar would wear his clerics ... indeed, it is hard to find a picture of him in clerical attire [though canon law has always required it].
Apparently, the "neck-tie" was popular even among ex-Jesuits!

Certainly, I trust St. Lucia, and the other children of Fatima, more than I trust any of the modern theologians.

Peace to you! +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

that should read "Sr." Lucia, not "St." Lucia ... sorry for the typo.

Anonymous said...

Aren't the words in the Mass (starting this Advent) changing to reflect the understanding that not all will accept God's gift of salvation? I'm not sure how the new wording goes (sorry - perhaps before the Consecration?) but remember reading that somewhere.


Derek Caudill said...

@ Bob, I can think of one place to which you might be referring, where the wording will now say (I'm paraphrasing 'cause I'm not a liturgist) that Christ's sacrifice is for "Many" instead of saying "All." But we have to remember that logically those two terms are not mutually exclusive. If all received the gift, then you could still say "many" received it too. So there's no necessary implication ruling out all men being saved behind that, in itself.

And I have a question -- can someone enlighten me about the references to Fatima that some here are making? Forgive my ignorance. Did Our Lady say something explicit on that occasion about damnation being eternal in contradiction to certain Christian universalist theories?

Bob Rowland said...

Our loving and merciful God surely desired that all might be saved, but He knew free-will would be a curse for Adam. If not there was no need for a Savior.

Jesus said: Those who do not believe will be condemned.

Part of the Agony in the Garden was caused by those He knew would reject him and be condemned.

If God had willed that all might be saved,life would be meaningless.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The following commont from Kerberos (and my response) were first posted on another article ... but it is clear that they should have been posted here.

Kerberos said...
"In any case, we cannot trust the speculations of the modern theologians, we must trust in the promise of Christ."

Nice example of begging the question. We have only the NT text to tell us what Christ promised - & without knowing the function and meaning of the text, which it is the function of Biblical critics & theologians to ascertain, as far as is possible, it is impossible to talk of Christ saying anything, let alone promising it.

A bit more respect for the work of von Balthasar and the the modern/Biblical theologians seems called for.
November 1, 2011 12:54 PM

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...
I find it ironic that Balthasar can speak of the scholastics in such negative terms (blaming them for the demise of the Church), and the modern(ist) biblical "scholars" can completely disregard the whole Tradition and especially the medievals; but then if I (or anyone else) challenges them someone is sure to come along and throw out a comment like this: "A bit more respect for the work of von Balthasar and the the modern/Biblical theologians seems called for."

I've given them more respect than they have given to the Doctors of the Church.
November 1, 2011 1:29 PM

Anonymous said...

Great Doctors and Saints of the Church have constantly taught on the fewness of those who will be saved. The Liturgy (traditional) certainly implies this in the Dies Irae. Approved private revelations (i.e. Fatima) talk about this as well. It would seem that this issue is pretty much covered, and that no new interpretation can really be countenanced even if it isn’t strictly speaking heretical. The kind of stuff von Balthasar and friends (whether hard or soft proponents of the nouvelle theologie) is the kind of thing that used to be dismissed as being “offensive to pious ears”, “injurious to Catholic Schools”, and that “smacks of heresy”. It needs this same treatment again, but I do not see this happening any time soon. Maybe one of these days we will quit becoming stupidly enthralled over the supposed profundities of certain aspects of modern thought and go back to preaching the Gospel and handing on the received Tradition.
Another problem with this whole nouvelle theologie issue is that the theories (admittedly often dumbed down and disfigured) have practically ousted the traditional thinking on various issues, especially with the “Faithful”. I guess practically everyone’s getting saved, ‘cause God luvs us all so much that it doesn’t matter what you do, or if you’re baptized just be “good”. No one needs “saving”, we just need be nice to each other.


Derek Caudill said...

On this All Souls' Day, may I offer some of my thoughts on the issue that I've recorded in this blog post of mine?


I hope that some of those here can give me some feedback on what I've written there. It would be much appreciated. And @Fr. Erlenbush, if you'd be so inclined, I'd especially appreciate your own thoughts as both a priest and a theologian, and as someone who has already helped me much in my study, if you have the time and interest.

And @dominic1955, I'd like to point out that Christ and tradition have claimed that "many" will be lost and "few" be saved, but that is not the same as "most" and "least." Jesus is not a statistician who speaks only in a mathematical way, but he's our loving shepherd to whom, among 99 sheep, only 1 lost would be too "many," and he diligently seeks out that one. The gravity of one soul lost is heavy enough to love himself to call for such urgent language. So, might we hope more "optimistically" (for lack of a better term at the moment) than some men in the past have? I only pose that question and don't claim to assert any sure interpretation, and I submit myself to objective Truth on the subject, whatever that may be.

Let's all keep praying for one another and all the departed, and fight the good fight. Peace.


wpr said...


I know I am a little late to this party and this question may not be directly on point to this post, but could you give your view on paragraph 46 of Spe Salvi. It seems to suggest that "we may suppose" that "the great majority of people" will be saved through purgatory. Do you read it in this way?

Prefacing his discussion on purgatory, after discussing both the damned and those who go immediately to Heaven, Pope Benedict states: "Yet we know from experience that neither case is normal in human life. For the great majority of people—we may suppose—there remains in the depths of their being an ultimate interior openness to truth, to love, to God. In the concrete choices of life, however, it is covered over by ever new compromises with evil—much filth covers purity, but the thirst for purity remains and it still constantly re-emerges from all that is base and remains present in the soul. What happens to such individuals when they appear before the Judge? Will all the impurity they have amassed through life suddenly cease to matter? What else might occur?"


Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Trying to give the most generous read to the encyclical -- and seeking to understand it in the context of the tradition (especially since Pope Benedict is thought by most to be an Augustinian at heart) -- I would say that we may suppose that the vast majority of those who are in fact saved are indeed saved through purgatory (but not necessarily that the vast majority of all people are saved).

Surely, in that portion of Spe Salvi, the Holy Father is more intending to argue for the necessity of purgatory rather than to imply that few people go to hell.

Thank you for the quotation, and the insightful question!
Peace. +

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

The simple truth is that the vast majority of the tradition has read "many" and "few" as "most" and "least".
This interpretation has also been affirmed by the mystics of the Church.

Anonymous said...


Father already answered your question posed to me as I would but I would also add that, really, what good does it do to look at such things "optimistically"? Does such an outlook change the objective truth of the matter? Of course not. God loves us so much that He gave us-free will. With free will, untold thousands plunge themselves into hell on their own accord. They made the choice, God respects that precisely because He loves us.

Besides that, it is much better for the simple faithful to think much more literally about the road being narrow and the fewness of those who will be saved in order to more diligently work out their own salvation in fear and trembling. It does no good to have a pollyanna-ish outlook on such a weighty subject, especially when such a position leads to undue laxity.

A Sinner said...

And yet Pope Benedict says in Spe Salvi:

"In this way we further clarify an important element of the Christian concept of hope. Our hope is always essentially also hope for others; only thus is it truly hope for me too"

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

@A Sinner,
See my Oct 25, 8:16pm response to Joe A. [since you are making essentially the same point as he].

Peace. +

James Joseph said...

I submit that...

I would be happy even on the outermost fringes of Heaven; that is, eternal bliss for me would be the smallest possible speck of His love in the Hereafter.

I am not worthy of Heaven, and that I sin rather efficiently and with terrible consistency

If I am 100% guaranteed Heaven even the tinyest speck of Heaven, even if it is in a million-zillion years of miserable trials, there is nothing constraining my dissolute life.

If now, there is a 0.01% chance that I will not go to Heaven should I continue in my evil ways, then I am certain to at least try to be good and holy.

The more I am aware that I am bound for hell, the more aware I am of my need to live good and holy.

The more I know that the many in fact go to hell, the more I guarantee you I will work my tail off and suffer in the here and now.

I think I will err on the side of caution and paraphrase who I understand are the words of practically every doctor of the Church, "Hardly 1 in 100,000 goes to Heaven."

If Hell is non-existent or perhaps only finite (even if it lasts for a very long time and one eventually makes it to heaven alla Mormon-theology-style) then what is the purpose of obeying laws?

Anonymous said...

Hope is for those who do not believe. "I hope God is real, I hope he forgives me, I hope he hears my prayers, I hope I'm good enough". This is not belief. God tells us to have faith not hope. I know there is a God, I know he hears our prayers, I know he forgives, I know we can go to heaven. Hope is to gamblers what faith is to believers.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

Please use a pseudonym in the future ... at least at the end of the comment.

You wrote, "Hope is for those who do not believe" ... that is a very foolish thing to say ... for "these three remain, faith, hope, love, and the greatest of these is love".

Hope is a theological virtue, you cannot be saved without it.

Anonymous said...

How does all that you have been saying, which is interesting indeed, relate to the New English Translation of the ordinary Mass when the priest will now be saying salvation of "many" and not "all"? FOrgive me if I have the wording wrong. I "naturally" hope you know what I am referring to.

Father Ryan Erlenbush said...

You ask a good question ... truth is that there is theological validity to both ways: "many" or "all" ... however, "many" is the proper translation, so that is what we should say.

Christ did indeed die for "all" ... insofar as the opportunity of salvation for all is given only through our Lord .
However, his death is salvific only for the "many" who convert and believe in him.

I wouldn't want to make too strong a conclusion from the new translation ... but I think you are correct that it does indicate the importance of recognize that one must be converted in order to be saved -- hence, it is a bit hard to see how we can "hope" for the salvation of all, since our own conversion is the only thing truly under our power (by God's grace).

Peace to you! +

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